In the Innovator's Dilemma for SaaS Startups, I outlined the path of many software companies, which disrupt incumbents by first serving the small-to-medium business and then move up-market by transitioning to serve larger enterprises with outbound sales teams. I argued this transition is largely due to the more attractive characteristics of larger customers, namely higher sales efficiency and reduced churn rates. This is the "traditional" way of disrupting. But, as Kenny van Zant of Asana and Mike Cannon-Brookes Atlassian told me, there's another way, a novel way of building companies that still isn't very well understood: the Flywheel SaaS Company.
Sales cycles, the time from acquiring a lead to closing an account, vary quite a bit by industry, product type, and price point. But universally speaking for startups, shorter sales cycles are better. Maintaining a short sales cycle is a competitive advantage for several important reasons.
How many companies sell each year for $1B or more? In the last ten years, on average, 2.5 US venture backed IT companies are acquired for $1B+. In the last ten years, a total of 20 companies have sold themselves for greater than $1B. Over the past 20 years, that trend has been relatively constant, with the exception of the euphoria in 1999 and 2000.
Performance reviews tax organizations, managers and employees to such an extent that some companies have abolished them outright. Reviews are emotionally complex conversations. Positive and negative feedback are intertwined with conversations about career progression, raises and equity grants. These meetings are emotional powder kegs; and it's no wonder they stress us.
In a post earlier this week, Josh Kopelman coined the term Private IPO to describe patterns in the runaway late stage financing market. In addition to the points Josh makes about the dangers of stale valuations, there is another important and related implication for founders.
here's a familiar path now to SaaS companies that start in the SMB (small-to-medium business) part of the market. Over time, they seem to inevitably begin serving larger customers. Box, Hubspot, Zendesk and among many others have exhibited this pattern. Why does this happen?
Yesterday, Redpoint announced something amazing: Andy Rubin, the creator of Android is joining Redpoint. I remember reading about Google's Android acquisition in 2005 and wondering what would become of the technology; and then later at Google seeing some of the first versions of the G1, the first Android phone. Since then, Android has become a standard, and powers 81% of phone shipped last year. My partner, Jeff, has worked with Andy for about 20 years. Jeff and Andy's relationship is an example of one of the special things that struck me about Redpoint when I joined seven years ago: the importance Redpoint places on long term relationships.
In the Runaway Train of Late Stage Fundraising, I analyzed the growing disparity of the public and private markets. Ten years ago, we saw 2-10x as many IPOs as $40M+ rounds. Today, we see 16x as many $40M+ growth rounds as IPOs. There's no question that companies are waiting longer to go public, fueled by late stage private investment. I was wondering if as a consequence, we might see bigger IPOs. Surprisingly, the answer so far is no.
In 2013 with 40 employees, Stripe adopted email transparency, a policy that makes most emails public to everyone in the company. They posted an update about the success of email transparency in late 2014 with 164 employees. At first blush, it may seem radical to funnel emails of 164 other people to everyone's already overflowing inbox. But it works brilliantly because it creates a policy around Institutional Memory, something very few companies do well.
Every morning, it seems like a startup raises a massive growth round. In fact, the data proves the point. In 2014, there were 251 working days and 211 $40M+ growth rounds - just about one per day. In contrast to the frenetic private market, there were 15 US IT venture-backed IPOs with offerings greater than $40M last year, slightly more one IPO per month in 2014. Private market rounds were 16x as common as IPOs in 2014, compared to the 2004-2007 era, when IPOs were about as equally common as large private financings.